One key takeaway from NEMRA 2024’s Distributor Panel Discussion is that the quality of local relationships reps establish with end users in local markets will continue to define the value they offer electrical distributors.
Executives from four of the nation’s largest electrical distributors and two marketing groups engaged in a lively discussion moderated by Dr. Jeffrey Magee that covered point-of-sale data, creating demand, the impact of M&As, managing promotions and the importance of understanding each branch location or profit center’s unique business model.
The panelists were: Steven Guidry, senior VP, Supplier Relations, Affiliated Distributors (AD); Steve Ruane, VP and Member Services, IMARK; Bob Kalkowski, Senior VP, Strategic Vendor Relations, Sonepar; Scott Dowell, senior VP and general manager, WESCO; Brad Selby, VP and Midwest Region Manager; and Andy Ciccone, district VP, Graybar.
NEMRA agents have focused on creating demand for the lines they carry for decades, but panelists said that responsibility will evolve dramatically in coming years as the industry moves toward more widespread use of POS data and how it’s tracked and used for compensation.
Several of the panelists also agreed that reps can play a key role in managing product promotions in the market. While it’s always exciting to launch a new promotion, once the initial hoopla and excitement fades, they said distributors need reps to help to manage promotions by redirecting or refining their sales efforts to focus on the customers or products based on the feedback they receive from the front line.
M&As were another key point of discussion. The current wave of distributor acquisitions is changing local market dynamics and shows no sign of stopping, according to the panelists. Reps can best adjust to M&As by
maintaining their focus on building brands. Said IMARK’s Ruane, “Build brand equity within customers. Distributors are looking for manufacturers with solid brand preference. Look for customers predisposed to the lines you carry.”
Sonepar’s Kalkowski said M&As are forcing relationships to get closer and more strategic. “Acquisitions are part of of our lifeblood, but the local market wins,” he said.
“Our operating companies run our business.”
IMARK’s Ruane surveyed 20 IMARK distributors about the traits common with best-in-class distributors. One of the things that came up frequently was the need for reps to build and maintain business relationships at all levels of a distributorship — including management, outside sales, inside sales, purchasing, warehouse and the counter.
WESCO’s Dowell and CED’s Selby agreed. “Understand our business model,” said Selby. “Someone who calls a CED profit center a branch does not understand our business model.”
WESCO’s Dowell said reps need to understand that some local branches operate differently and that they can help fill in any gaps that may exist with the services they provide.